BELTON, Missouri — The American Civil Liberties Union in Missouri has filed a lawsuit challenging a suburban Kansas City town's ban on begging as unconstitutional.
In the lawsuit filed recently in federal district court, the ACLU contends Belton's ban on panhandling deprived Roger Walker, 67, of Kansas City, of his constitutional right to free speech when he was blocked from seeking donations there. Walker's complaint asks the court to award him unspecified damages and declare the Belton ordinance against panhandling unconstitutional.
Police Chief James Person referred questions to City Attorney Megan McGuire, who told The Kansas City Star the city is reviewing the lawsuit and had assigned the case to outside counsel, attorney David Baker.
Baker did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday. McGuire could not say if Belton is considering repealing or revising the ordinance.
The ACLU has filed similar lawsuits around the U.S., including in Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio and Michigan. The organization also filed similar lawsuits in Springfield and Bolivar, Missouri, where attorneys said ordinances banning people from asking for money, food or other donations violate rights to free expression and due process. In both cases, city officials voted to repeal the ordinances in question.
Tony Rothert, an attorney with the ACLU of Missouri, said the Belton ordinance should be repealed.
"What Belton has done is put some content-based restrictions in a law about traffic safety," Rothert said. "Certainly there can be a law about traffic safety, but it cannot discriminate on the basis of messages."